Missing U.S. Journalist Surfaces In A Video That Raises Questions
American freelance journalist Austin Tice disappeared in Syria in mid-August and there had not been solid information on his whereabouts or his condition.
Now a video has surfaced on YouTube, but there's a great deal of skepticism about what it purports to show.
In the video, several vehicles drive through rough, semi-desert terrain. Eventually, a blindfolded man who resembles Tice appears in torn clothing as he is being led by masked men with rifles. The men are chanting, "God is greatest."
Tice recites a common Islamic phrase in Arabic, his head bowed in distress, and then cries out, "Oh Jesus, oh Jesus." The clip ends after 47 seconds.
Taken at face value, the video suggests Tice, 31, was seized and is being held by Islamic extremists.
But the U.S. State Department says it believes Tice is being held by the Syrian government, and it expressed doubts about what the video was showing.
"We have seen the video. We are not in a position to verify, A, whether it is him, or B, whether it represents an actual scene that happened or something that may have been staged," says spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. "There's a lot of reason for the Syrian government to duck responsibility, but we continue to believe, to the best of our knowledge, that he's in Syrian government custody."
The Syrian government has not said whether it is holding Tice.
The Syrian leadership has repeatedly blamed Islamic radicals from other countries for the violence in Syria. The video would fit with the broader narrative being put out by the Syrian government, one analyst noted.
"It's like a caricature of a jihadi group," Joseph Holliday, who researches Syrian rebel groups at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, told The Washington Post. "It looks like someone went to the Internet, watched pictures of Afghan mujahedeen, then copied them.
"My gut instinct is that [Syrian] regime security guys dressed up like a bunch of wahoos and dragged him around and released the video to scare the U.S. and others about the danger of al-Qaida extremists in Syria," Holliday told the paper.
The Post also noted that the video was posted Sept. 26, but didn't gain much attention until it appeared Monday on a Facebook page linked to Syrian government supporters.
Tice was working for the Post and other news organizations when he disappeared.